To Whom it May Concern,
I’ve been thinking long and hard about your recent statement. You know the one that you just came out with again, that said that women are allowed to learn, even encouraged- but to actually do something with that knowledge, we are made to be kept quiet. The one where you said that even if I study for 5 (or more years) going over the same texts that if I was a man I would get the title rabbi and be ordained, but because I am a woman I am not allowed to get that title, and even more so use that title. The one where you said that some degrees are ok, but only the ones that deal with “women’s” issues (I understand checking bedika cloths is not that fun, and sometimes kinda gross, so good way to get out of that one). The one where you have tried to crush the dreams and spirits of orthodox women and girls and “keep them in their place” so they don’t strive to actually be part of the community.
Here is what I have to say. You hurt me. You really, really hurt me. I am so tired of being told that I am not good enough- just because I am a woman. I am so tired of being told that no matter what training I have my role in the community should be at home,with kids, maybe doing some nice things on the side. I am tired of being around men who are so afraid of some women having power, and so they must put them down. And guess what, when there is constant putting down it does get to a person (either they give up or they decide to fight back [yup, start a revolution]).
What type of world are you trying to create?! You say that women should be learning. It is a good thing- they do need to bring up their children in the world of Torah. But there is only so much learning that they should be doing- how does that make sense?! All you are doing is telling women that they shouldn’t bother learning. Learning Talmud and Halacha is all about picking up skills, they are not books that you can just pick up and learn. The only way to pick up the skills is to learn, but if I know that I will never get to any place, or once I actually get the skills I’m going to be kicked out- what is the point of me starting in the first place? If you think that learning Torah is a way to connect to God and the Torah, why should I not be able to do that? Why should I not be able to access that connection as well?
Then we have the title. Yes, I know I shouldn’t care about it, but I do, and I do think that it is something important. No man in the world would make sacrifices to study for 5, 7, 10 years, studying texts that are not necessarily the easiest (meaning that there were many years before those specific years studying to build the skills), and after passing difficulty exams won’t get a tittle. And more than that- titles give honor. In general we give more respect to a person with a title than one that doesn’t (not saying this is a good thing or not). So, from what I understood from you, that just because I am a woman, I don’t deserve that respect. I don’t deserve to be in a role that people will stand for me when I walk into a room, or make sure that I have water at my table before I teach, or see that I have years of study behind me. The only time I am deserving of this role is if I learned the laws of Nida, the area of life of women (be it that it was decided by men).
I understand why it is important for women to be able to discuss the laws of nida. I understand that women are more comfortable today talking to other women about the goings on of their bodies. But it seems very interesting that the only role that you are willing to give up is the one that talks about these issues. Are you tired of checking bloody cloths? Are you tired of hearing about people’s marital issues? Are you tired of knowing more about tampons and the menstral cycle than most men? I would say that women should also be able to talk about kashrut. In your way of thinking, a woman’s role is in the kitchen, so shouldn’t she know the laws of kashrut better than you. You who don’t spend time in kitchens or with food? What about Shabbat? While you are out in shul (as someone has to stay home with the children), who is making sure that the food is prepared and warm in a way that doesn’t break Shabbat? Who is keeping the kids occupied when there is mukzah everywhere? Who is thinking about if they can leave a house because they are unsure if there is an eruv? (I can find examples in aveilut and kiddushin as well). Yes, it is the women. These are all women’s issues too! They are just not as bloody.
And then there is my spirit. I have fought a lot. I have been to social situations and have been tested. I have been told time and time again that I don’t know enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough. And I fight back. I find a way to push myself up. I have friends and family members that are there for me when I come home in tears. I have people in my life sending me emails of encouragement when you write things like you just have. But I know that this is not the case for all women.. There are women who are told there are worth nothing in the religious world, and there is no reason for them not to belive that. There are girls who are not encouraged to learn, not encouraged to connect with the words of God, not encouraged to related to the texts of our community- if this is how they are taught they will all leave. Why should they stay orthodox, or even Jewish? Why should they choose to be part of a community that is basically abusive?
Esteemed rabbis of the RCA, this is how I feel. I am hurt. Part of me does not have the strength to fight you any more. Part of me wants to leave this community. Part of me wants to just give up, there is too much pain and suffering that you are causing me. On the other hand, part of me still feels like I should be fighting back. That I should do everything in my power to prove you wrong. That I will get a job as a rabbi. I will know the material just as well and if not better than any man who you deem appropriate.
Another thought, that I am more inclined to follow, is that I will just stop caring about what you have to say. You want to say that you speak for the Modern Orthodox community, so I will come and say that you don’t. You do not speak for me. You are not a representative of how I view Judaism. You are what is causing pain and hurt in this world, in places that should not be painful. And I will make it my goal as a future rabbi to do the complete opposite. My goal will be to find ways to encourage Torah study and deeper relationships with God. My goal will be to find ways to lift up anyone that is in a place of up lifting. My goal is to create a space that is not counting the mitzvot that a person does, as I am not God, but rather to be with people as people living in the modern world, who are also trying to work within the Jewish world.
Thank you for your time.
(This is a is the imaged letter that I would send to the RCA after their recent statement. I probably won’t say anything- especially not to them, and probably it would be written better than this, but this is what I would want them to hear)